What is Disaster Recovery?
Disaster recovery is an organization’s method of regaining access and functionality to its IT infrastructure after a natural or human disaster, like equipment failure or cyber attack. A variety of disaster recovery (DR) methods can be part of a disaster recovery plan. DR is one aspect of business continuity.
How does disaster recovery work?
Disaster recovery relies upon the replication of data and computer processing in an off-premises location that is not affected by the disaster. When servers go down because of a natural disaster, equipment failure, or cyber attack, a business needs to recover lost data from a second location where the data is backed up. Ideally, an organization can transfer its computer processing to that remote location as well in order to continue operations.
As cyber attacks and extreme weather events become more common, planning for disaster recovery becomes more critical to business continuity. A risk assessment and a business impact analysis that quantifies the potential effects of a disaster are effective tools for gaining management support for a disaster recovery plan.
What is in a disaster recovery plan?
A good disaster recovery plan includes documentation of which systems and data are the most critical for business continuity, as well as the necessary steps to recover the data. The plan should include a recovery point objective (RPO) that states the frequency of backups and a recovery time objective (RTO) that defines the maximum amount of downtime allowable after a disaster. These metrics create limits to guide the choice of IT strategy, processes, and procedures that make up an organization’s disaster recovery plan. The amount of downtime an organization can handle and how frequently the organization backs up its data will inform the organization’s disaster recovery strategy. Finally, it is important to test the plan on a regular basis before disaster strikes, to ensure that it works.
What are the types of disaster recovery?
Businesses can choose from a variety of disaster recovery methods, or combine several:
- Back-up: This is the simplest type of disaster recovery and entails storing data off site or on a removal drive. However, just backing up data provides only minimal business continuity help, as the IT infrastructure itself is not backed up.
- Cold Site: In this type of disaster recovery, an organization sets up a basic infrastructure in a second, rarely used facility that provides a place for employees to work after a natural disaster or fire. It can help with business continuity because business operations can continue, but it does not provide a way to protect or recover important data, so a cold site must be combined with other methods of disaster recovery.
- Hot Site: A hot site maintains up-to-date copies of data at all times. Hot sites are time-consuming to set up and more expensive than cold sites, but they dramatically reduce down time.
- Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS): In the event of a disaster or ransomware attack, a DRaaS provider moves an organization’s computer processing to its own cloud infrastructure, allowing a business to continue operations seamlessly from the vendor’s location, even if an organization’s servers are down. DRaaS plans are available through either subscription or pay-per-use models. There are pros and cons to choosing a local DRaaS provider: latency will be lower after transferring to DRaaS servers that are closer to an organization’s location, but in the event of a widespread natural disaster, a DRaaS that is nearby may be affected by the same disaster.
- Back Up as a Service: Similar to backing up data at a remote location, with Back Up as a Service, a third party provider backs up an organization’s data, but not its IT infrastructure.
- Data center disaster recovery: The physical elements of a data center can protect data and contribute to faster disaster recovery in certain types of disasters. For instance, fire suppression tools will help data and computer equipment survive a fire. A backup power source will help businesses sail through power outages without grinding operations to a halt. Unfortunately, none of these physical disaster recovery tools will help in the event of a cyber attack.
- Virtualization: Organizations can back up certain operations and data or even a working replica of an organization’s entire computing environment on off-site virtual machines that are unaffected by physical disasters. Using virtualization as part of a disaster recovery plan also allows businesses to automate some disaster recovery processes, bringing everything back online faster. For virtualization to be an effective disaster recovery tool, frequent transfer of data and workloads is essential, as is good communication within the IT team about how many virtual machines are operating within an organization.
- Point-in-time copies: Point-in-time copies, also known as point-in-time snapshots, make a copy of the entire database at a given time. Data can be restored from this back-up, but only if the copy is stored off site or on a virtual machine that is unaffected by the disaster.
- Instant recovery: Instant recovery is similar to point-in-time copies, except that instead of copying a database, instant recovery takes a snapshot of an entire virtual machine.
What are the benefits of disaster recovery software?
No organization can afford to ignore disaster recovery. The two most important benefits of having a disaster plan in place are:
- Cost savings: Planning for disaster can save businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars and can even mean the difference between surviving a natural disaster or folding.
Faster recovery: Depending on the disaster recovery strategy and the types of disaster recovery tools that are used, businesses can get up and running much faster after a disaster, or even continue operations as if nothing had happened. Businesses without a disaster recovery strategy and plan in place could easily be wiped out by a catastrophic flood or hurricane, or be so affected by the price of a ransomware attack that they never recover.
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